East Of West #44 Review

by Jay Hill on November 26, 2019

Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Nick Dragotta
Colors by: Frank Martin
Lettered by: Rus Wooton
Published by: Image Comics

The end is nigh. In the penultimate issue of the epic East of West, war is raging and when the smoke settles one nation will be victorious and the other will cease to be.  And, in the Valley of the Gods, Babylon is being prepared to take his place as the Great Beast; that is unless his father can stop it.

The pieces have been in place for a while now. They’ve been played and now they fall to see what, if anything, will be left standing. These last few issues have had an orchestral flow to them with peaks, falls, and sweeping crescendos. You can sense the sweat on the brow of each person behind this comic as they bring to a close what has been, and will stand as, one of the great stories told in a comic book. Jonathan Hickman is in top form weaving political, philosophical, and ethical ideas into the climaxing narrative. While also paying off multiple storylines brilliantly and with emotional resonance. The war between Chamberlain’s Confederates and Xiaolian’s Children of the Republic has been an awe-inspiring, violent clash filled with thrills and heartbreak. Seeing Xiaolian wield her blades and attempt to go out on her shield was an amazing moment, and, with the prophecy that she and Death will never see each other again, it seemed very likely that she was about to do just that. With all his silver-tongued likeability these recent issues have been showing the real Chamberlain. He is an admitted coward and a sadistic animal. So, even if he has charisma in droves, to quote War (and the text that has appeared on the back of these comics since issue #1), “He has earned what is coming.” Speaking of the Horsemen, they now hold Babylon and are attempting to fulfill their machinations to bring about the apocalypse. Death faces the Oracle and shows that he is willing to give his all to save his son. With the reveal a few issues earlier of the complicated relationship of War and Death, pre-rebirth, it makes that scene of lady War gouging the Oracle’s eyes out more poignant. The Oracle spoke of Death’s eventual fall to love and with War already being in love with him, it is now more telling why that prophecy was so irksome.

The musical nature of the narrative is mirrored in the art. Nick Dragotta has been operating on operatic levels of imagery. The battle in the Valley of the Gods in issue #42 was an emotional and cataclysmic vision of the past. And the battle fought in these last two issues has been filled with the small victories and bitter defeats of a raging war. Dragotta’s always cinematic art style has created more striking images. In this issue, we see the heroic but solemn shot of Xiaolian, weapons in each hand, leaping headfirst into a winless battle. Followed by feverish glimpses of her furious fight; snapshots of a blood fueled frenzy. Which led to her surrounded by enemy forces, standing on a battleground of her fallen soldiers. Pictorial poetry has been a constant in this series, but it is exemplified and punctuated in this issue on the last page with two gunslingers facing off at sunset knowing only one will live to see the night. Frank Martin’s colors have been slowly engulfing the story. The reds of the bloody battle scenes have cemented the atmosphere. And, the changes in scenes have been dictated by the change in the colors. But it’s been his shading and lighting that has been bringing the Dragotta drawn pieces to life. The previous two issues were opened with full-page shots and the colors Martin provided for them were incredible, almost like neoclassical paintings. The way the light plays romantically in those openings were beautiful. This issue we get that with Xiaolian’s hero shot and the swirling clouds in the background and culminating in the end face-off with the halo of sun haze around Chamberlain. Also that scene highlights Martin’s other great addition, the way he brushes and blends the skin and features of the characters. Rus Wooton’s lettering has also been a key factor in this series. He shapes the dialogue bubbles in very circular/oval shapes, especially effective since East of West thrives with Hickman’s dialogue. He also positions them to not distract from the art, sometimes adding to it. This is most obvious when looking at his work in another Image comic, Deadly Class, where he uses square/rectangle shapes in his bubbles to not only match the design and art of the book but to highlight the use of dialogue boxes and narrations in that series. Wooton has been on East of West since issue #1 and is just as pivotal to the enjoyment of the comic as anyone else.

East of West #44 is one of the best issues in one of the best series. It is closing the story with a swell of action, drama, and emotion. The battle within these pages is not just action-packed but is filled with a poignance only capable with the 43 previous issues behind it. With the next issue being the finale, this one ends with the feeling that a showdown is imminent on all fronts.

Our Score:


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